Haldol and the Blue Horses

by | Apr 15, 2024 | Creative Nonfiction

Faded blue wall next to a ledge that a blurred figure is sitting against.

After Mary Oliver


Every morning and evening, a tiny, chalky pink pill. “This is a gentle dose,” she says, like I’m a painted pony, a glorious blue horse, she’s gentling.



In his 1911 masterpiece, Blue Horses, German expressionist Franz Marc painted four horses, hue of ocean and bowing, a-sea in yellow and red. To Marc, blue represented masculinity and spirituality, yellow feminine joy. Red—scarlet scream, slashing, hallucinatory paroxysm of blood. 



This is pink: an oil painter begins with a base of alizarin crimson, adds flake white and cadmium red, and intensifies the color with an ocean-drop of phthalo blue.  



Minute pink tablet, mornings and evenings—and unending battles for my mind— from moment of prescription to eternity. Sun-dazes scintillating upon shrapnel shards refusing to go down to loam.




1958. Paul Janssen, a Belgian pharmacologist, had developed an opioid painkiller and sought one even stronger. His team of fifty chemists—low-paid, self-taught—synthesized chemical byproducts of the original opioid as rapidly as possible and injected the new molecules into mice.

The results of the forty-fifth molecule in the series intrigued Janssen. The forty-fifth didn’t stultify pain, but instead did something else, something scarlet. 



At twenty-one, long before Haldol, I overdosed on Tylenol PM and went to bed. I clutched my teddy bear and sang a lullaby, wordless, unmeaning.


I fell asleep, dreamless—
And awoke, hours later,
white-and-warring as cartridge and bullet

undreaming still.



Mary Oliver, in her poem “Franz Marc’s Blue Horses,” writes: 


I would rather die than try to explain to the blue horses
___what war is. 



The painter of Blue Horses served in the Imperial German Army during World War I. He concealed artillery from the enemy with canvas covers dotted Eros-olive, yellow and lush, with pointillist brush.



The bombardments come in blue with gashes of yellow, cobalt-plumed Fokker fighter planes galloping on into mustard skies seething with machine gun fire until I flame down down down, plummet unnoted by God, unnoted by my shrink, or maybe not, because now, I still among white veils, the white hangings between beds, while the cerulean-tattoo boy in the next mutters, “Mama will hide the gun,” until I shake and  the snowy nurse gives me the injection. 

Blue nose noses me lightly.  

I still. I no longer want to die.



Janssen measured the pupils of a rodent injected with the forty-fifth molecule when he placed the mouse on a hot plate. The mouse’s pupils dilated with pain, but the rodent appeared apathetic, unmotivated to lift its paws.

The newfound molecule trapped the animal in a trance, searing scarlet flickering cerise, glowing rose, until it burned. 

But after the burning, blush, blue—




Imperial Germany identified Marc as a notable artist and ordered him to be withdrawn from combat. But before orders for reassignment reached him, a splinter from a ricocheting shell struck Marc in the skull. 



Every morning and evening, a minute pink pill, and my self-war stills to four blue, bowing horses; patio gardens of tomato and basil; books loamy and bawling as babies. Stills to my husband’s fingertip down my forearm, in the house like a locket, behind the door painted ocean.



One of the horses walks toward me.
His blue nose noses me lightly. I put my arm
over his blue mane, not holding on, just

The poet has died
and the painter has died.

And I would die if I tried to explain to the blue horse
our wars rage still. 

Photo by Dako Huang, used and adapted under CC.

About The Author


Meg LeDuc (she/her) works as a copywriter and lives in the Detroit area with her husband and three rescue cats. Her literary work has appeared in Mount Hope Magazine, Brevity, and New Delta Review, among others, and an essay is forthcoming from Third Coast Magazine. An excerpt from her memoir-in-progress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2020. Another excerpt was a finalist for CRAFT’s Creative Nonfiction Award 2021 and published the following year. She is a three-time recipient of the University of Michigan’s Hopwood Writing Award. She currently attends Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Master of Fine Arts in Writing. Please visit www.megleduc.com